Catheters and Ports for Ovarian Cancer: What Do I Need to Know?

Catheters and ports are commonly used in cancer treatment. These medical devices can help make your treatment easier and less uncomfortable. Knowing more about ports and catheters can help reduce anxiety around them and their use.

What are catheters and ports?

A catheter is a thin, flexible tube that goes inside a vein. Doctors use the catheter to give treatment through the vein.1,2

Some people have catheters that have a portion of the tube outside their body. This makes it easier for doctors to insert medicine into the catheter. Other people have catheters that split into 2 or 3 different ends. These are called double and triple lumen catheters, respectively. These types of catheters allow you to receive more than 1 treatment at a time. When not in use, the catheters are clamped or capped shut.1,2

In some cases, a catheter is put completely under the skin. It connects to a small plastic or metal disc called a port. The port also goes under the skin, usually below the center of your right collarbone. However, they may be placed in other locations if needed. You may see or feel a small lump where the port is located, but you will not see the tip of the catheter.1-3

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What are catheters and ports used for?

People undergoing cancer treatment often need to have blood drawn. This is common even if they are not receiving intravenous (IV) chemotherapy drugs. If a person is receiving IV chemotherapy drugs, needle sticks are even more frequent. To reduce the number of needle sticks and wear and tear on the veins, a port or catheter will be surgically inserted.1,2

Ports and catheters are helpful for:1,2

  • Giving intravenous (IV) chemotherapy or other drugs
  • Giving blood transfusions
  • Taking blood samples
  • Giving IV fluids

How are catheters and ports inserted?

Ports and catheters are implanted during a short surgery. This is a same-day procedure. The process is generally as follows:1

  1. The area where the port will be inserted is cleaned and numbed. You will be given a local anesthetic on your neck and chest.
  2. A small incision will be made at the bottom of your neck. Another will be made under your collarbone.
  3. The catheter is threaded through the second incision under the skin to the first incision and then placed into a vein.
  4. The incisions will be closed with either dissolving stitches or surgical glue.

After the procedure, you may have some discomfort at the incision sites and where the catheter was placed. Over-the-counter pain medicine is typically enough for any discomfort you may have. Once the incision heals, you can return to your normal daily activities.1

How do you keep catheters and ports clean?

Keeping the port and catheter clean is important. This helps reduce the risk of infection.

After each use, the port will be flushed with saline and a special solution to protect the port and catheter. When the port is not in use, a nurse will need to flush it every 4 weeks. This ensures the catheter does not become blocked.3

Ask your doctor if there are any clothes you should avoid depending on where your port is located. Your doctor can also answer any other questions you have about taking care of your port and catheter.

What are the benefits of catheters and ports?

Benefits of a port and catheter include:2

  • Fewer needle sticks in the vein
  • More than 1 treatment can be given at the same time
  • Reduces the risk of drugs leaking out of the vein
  • Reduces bruising or bleeding with needle sticks and low platelet counts
  • Allows continuous infusion that may be given at home with a small pump

What are the drawbacks of catheters and ports?

Even with the benefits, there are some risks or drawbacks of ports and catheters. These include:2

  • Possible infections, blockages, or clots
  • Possible discomfort from the port
  • Feeling self-conscious about the port

Contact your doctor right away if:1,2

  • The area around your catheter or port becomes red, swollen, painful, bruised, or warm
  • You have a lot of bleeding around the catheter or port
  • You have a fever or chills
  • Fluids leak out of your catheter

How long do you need a catheter and port?

Ports can remain in place for weeks, months, or even years. When you no longer need the port and catheter, your doctor will surgically remove them. The surgery is like the one you had to place them.

If you have any questions or concerns about ports or catheters, talk with your doctor. They will be able to let you know the specifics of which one they are considering and what you can expect.

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